My little one was sick again. Coughing, miserable, not herself. Lying down in bed instead of jumping around everywhere, flitting like a butterfly from place to place. She also had a fever. I’m not one to run to the doctor with every little ache and cold, but she just didn’t look right. My mommy radar was full on and screaming. Although it was 7 p.m. on a Saturday I decided to take her to the local urgent care center for kids.
We got there and went inside pretty quickly. The nurse took Little Girl’s temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. She also did an oxygen screening, placing the little finger sensor over my baby’s tiny pointer finger. She did it once, twice, three times. What’s wrong, I asked. She told me she was just trying to get a good read on it. What was the count, I asked. She looked at the digital screen: 92, she said. What does that mean, I asked. The nurse said the doctor would talk to me.
I never spoke to a doctor, though. Soon after the nurse left a gentleman came in and introduced himself as a physician’s assistant. He would be caring for my little one that evening, he said. Right away my mommy radar started blaring. I wanted a doctor not a PA, but I silenced it. I didn’t want to cause a scene or upset anyone.
A few things happened that night. The PA decided he couldn’t see my daughter’s ear drum because wax was in the way. He proceeded to try and remove said wax. Screaming, crying, and panic ensued. Once he decided he couldn’t get the wax out, he checked my daughter’s lungs, looked in her throat, and swabbed her throat for a rapid strep test. In the mayhem, I forgot to ask him about the oxygen level that the nurse seemed so concerned about. Ten minutes later he sent us home with a sheet saying my daughter had something viral.
I still thought she looked too sick to have a virus, but I hoped he was right and that she would feel better soon. She didn’t, though. By Tuesday I had a kid so quiet, white, and dazed-looking even my husband was scared so I took her to our regular doctor. When we got there she begged to lie down, falling asleep in the examination room as soon as I placed her on the table. When the doctor came in she listened to her lungs and pronounced it double pneumonia immediately. I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I told the doctor what had transpired at the urgent care center. She was livid. The oxygen level of 92 was a huge red flag, she said. So was the fact that this guy had tried to remove a preschooler’s ear wax.
After handing me a tissue, our doctor made me promise that I would never let a physician’s assistant treat anyone in my family who was truly ill. A PA, she explained, should be there to support a doctor, not be the primary point of treatment. While I don’t know if I will ban all physician’s assistants from my care — I have known some excellent PAs over the years — she was right about one thing. Seeing how sick my child was I certainly should have known better and asked to see a real doctor at that urgent care center. The guy treating my daughter was young and green. He was also hurting my kid, a kid who was very sick, by trying to remove ear wax. I was too nice, though.
That day Little Girl went on antibiotics for only the second time since she was born. It was Tuesday. By our recheck Friday Little Girl was back to her usual bouncing, happy self. Her oxygen level was almost back to normal, too. She was making jokes and laughing. I was still cringing about how sick she was, though.
In my mind it was partially my fault that she got so sick because I did not advocate well enough for my child. I won’t make that mistake again. Going forward, I am not going to be so nice. I am going to remember something I have told countless friends about medical care in general: WE are the customers. Doctors, nurses, and yes, physician’s assistants are vendors who work for us. If we don’t like the service we receive, we need to speak up and demand better. Even if it means hurting someone’s feelings.